Title: The Hands We're Given
Author: O.E. Tearmann
Series: Aces High, Jokers Wild #1
Publisher: Spine Press and Post
Release date: September 14, 2018
Cover artist: Germancreative
Genre: LGBTQ sci-fi, cli-fi, cyberpunk, hard sci-fi, military romance
Tropes: redeeming love, redeeming found family, power of hope, fighting the system
Tags: corporate crime, corporate espionage, human rights, human dignity, freedom, American identity, diversity, found family, corporate power
Pairings: M/M (transgender) main couple, F/F side characters
Length: approx. 120,900 words
Warnings: Explicit (romantic) sexual scenes between a m/m(trans) couple
Aidan Headly never wanted to be the man giving orders. That's fine with the Democratic State Force base he's been assigned to command: they don't like to take orders. Nicknamed the Wildcards, they used to be the most effective base against the seven Corporations owning the former United States in a war that has lasted over half a century. Now the Wildcards are known for creative insubordination, chaos, and commanders begging to be reassigned.
Aidan is their last chance. If he can pull off his assignment as Commander and yank his ragtag crew of dreamers and fighters together, maybe they can get back to doing what they came to do: fighting for a country worth living in.
Life's a bitch. She deals off the bottom of the deck. But you play the hands you're given.
Mission: Raise some Hell.
Change some minds.
Change the world.
These are the mission files of The Wildcards. Officially Democratic State Force Base 1407, the Wildcards are serving in a new American Revolution. In 2155, corporations run the City Grids for a profit and own their workers body and soul. The Constitution has been relegated to a quaint document. Freedom is just a word in the news vids. But off the Grid and in the shadows, there are people fighting for a change.
The fight begins today.
Will you stand up?
Guest post from O.E. Tearmann:
Interview: Kevin McIllian, Logistics and Requisitions Officer, Base 1407 of the Democratic State Force
Interviewer: Chris Hensworth, CO-WY Regional Morale Officer, writing for the CO-WY Battle Cry
Kevin McIllian is the Logistics and Requisitions Officer for Base 1407, one of our best units and a shining example of what can be achieved by units in adversity when they creatively tackle morale and personnel problems. We will be interviewing the members over the next few months.
Hensworth: Officer McIllian. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me for the CO-WY Battle Cry.
McIllian: My pleasure. It’s an honor to see my base paid such attention.
Hensworth: What single event has had the most impact on your life?
McIllian: Hah. Life’s never quite as simple as single events, is it? Let’s say joining the Force. It’s been the most integral element in my personal experience and the shaping of my skills, since I joined.
Hensworth: How would you describe your most influential relationship?
McIllian: It would have to be my mentoring by Commander Taylor, God rest him. He took a boy who was practically a Molotov cocktail of grief, rage and fear and honed that boy into who I’ve become: a resourceful, intelligent Logistics man, valuable to his team. I’m worth something today because of what he taught me. Commander Taylor showed me how to turn undirected rage into a driving force. And he made me part of a cause I can believe in, as well as a...well, a family. This unit.
Hensworth: What philosophical concepts drive you?
McIllian: Despite their Cavanaugh contracts, my parents were anchored by their religious convictions, and I've inherited a beautiful faith. I was raised in the Jesuit ideals. We have a phrase: Cura personalis, ad majorem Dei gloriam. When we care for one another, we do service to God. It's something I keep firmly in mind. We are all the children of God, each of us uniquely valuable. Our lives are sacred things, however battered they've been by circumstance. And we all have the right to be treated with that sanctity in mind: treated with dignity, with compassion and with humanity. I feel that what we fight for is a return to a form of governance that allows us to be fully human. But I also feel that we must remember these ethics throughout this struggle. If we glorify our ends but betray them in our means, we will only replace one monster with another when we rise.
Beyond that, I do believe in the stated ideals of our Force: Democracy. Human rights. An America where we are truly free, once more.
Hensworth: That's a beautiful sentiment. You're quite a public speaker.
McIllian: *Chuckle* so I've been told. I appreciate the compliment.
Hensworth: If you could undo one decision in your life, what would it be?
McIllian: Ah... well. I suppose... dear me, that's quite a question. Well, I suppose I do have something I regret which I'd like put on record. As I said, I was a Cavanaugh kid originally, with all the bullshi--excuse me, with all the garbage that includes. I arrived on this base at sixteen, and the Perfection Mandate still hung over my head like the Sword of Damocles, at least in my mind, and--
Hensworth: Excuse me, a sword of what, sir?
McIllian: I am sorry, I watch an awful lot of old movies and search ancient literature for retro-technologies we can use. It's rather affected my vocabulary. The Sword of Damocles. Here, I'll spell it for you...like this. It signifies impending doom. You know Cavanaugh and their Human Perfection Mandate. I was raised under that, and I'm not exactly perfect. You can see the glasses, and I've got another genetic 'aberration', as the corporate bastards call it. As a teenager I was still afraid of being found out, so when two of my good friends--lady friends--started to date, our mutual friend Lazarus turned to me and said 'so when are you getting a guy?' I hate to admit it, but I was so terrified that I called him a bastard and took a swing at him. I wish I hadn't been such a coward at that age, and I wish I hadn't punched my best friend. We got past it, but I still feel a bit guilty.
Hensworth: What do you consider to be the greatest weakness in your society?
McIllian: Oh, I’d say the devaluation of human life. That and the heinously bad marketing. It takes days for me to clear my head after I’ve been on the Grid. Save me from bloody stupid holo-ads.
Hensworth: What do you consider to be its greatest strength?
McIllian: Things have come to a pass that people will no longer accept. Evil is insidious. It’s skilled at normalizing itself. People adapt to heinous conditions and treat them as the norm. It takes a great deal to shake most people out of their complacency, but I think we’ve officially hit that point.
Hensworth: In your free time – if you have any! – what activities do you enjoy?
McIllian: Oh dear...excuse me, I’m laughing because I get teased for my hobbies quite a lot. Ancient history is my first love; I’ll bury myself in history books on my day off. I also enjoy retro-entertainment quite a lot. I collect vintage film, right back to the inception of the art form, and there’s an informal Old Movie Night here on the base. Usually it’s only me and my boyfriend in attendance, though.
I’m an inveterate fan of pre-Dissolution music, especially the works from a hundred and fifty years ago. My great personal favorite is Bon Jovi, though I may regret putting that in print.
I read up on games from the past and try to turn them into playable holo-games as well, it’s quite a lot of fun puzzling that out and then passing the new games around for my friends to test… though occasionally it’s earned me no end of harassment. I suppose that’s the price I pay.
Hensworth: How do you see yourself in relation to current events?
McIllian: Better to light a candle than curse the dark, I suppose. Though I’m hoping my candle is a Molotov cocktail. I hope I can burn some of the evil out of the world as I go.
Hensworth:How do you see the arts in the realm of political power?
McIllian: I’m in the mood to extend the metaphor of a candle. If we want to light it, first we need a spark. That is art. Art is the mirror we hold up to our souls. It tells us what we are, what we have been and what we are becoming. And perhaps, at times, it’s the only weapon you have: a drawing. A dream. An idea. That makes it worth holding on to.
Hensworth: Similarly, how do you see the sciences?
McIllian: *Chuckle.* The Corporation that schooled me would have had me believe in the Great Science That Will Save Us All. But science is an arrow. If you want to see what it’ll do, look to see who’s holding the bow.
Hensworth: What do you consider the responsibility of government to be to the people?
McIllian: a properly run government ought to maximise human potential, allocate resources effectively to ensure the success of the society as a whole, and minimize waste of skill and suffering. Not only human suffering, I’d like to add. If we continue to cause our ecology to suffer, in time we’ll surely reap the whirlwind we sow.
Hensworth: What do you consider to be the responsibility of the citizenry to the government?
McIllian: That, my friend, depends entirely on the government in question. Government is like...have you ever seen a draft horse?
Hensworth: No sir, can’t say I have.
McIllian: Pity. Well, imagine a horse crossed with a tractor. They were bred in the days before plowing could be done mechanically. I mention them because government is much like a draft horse. Its power is great, but it must wear reins. It must not do as it pleases, or the crops die and both the horse and the farmer starves.
At the moment, the Corporations have inverted the relationship. The farmer pulls the plow and the horse holds the reins. And you can see where it’s gotten us.
Hensworth: What practical steps can individuals take to improve their own society, whatever that is?
McIllian: First, be informed. Read. Understand the situation as fully as you can. Don’t let them manipulate you by tugging on your emotional strings.
Secondly, say something about what you’ve learned. Even if it’s graffiti on a wall. This serves three purposes: it raises your morale, making you a better fighter. It lets others know they’re not alone in their struggles, which keeps them in a healthy mindset. And it keeps the lies from being repeated unopposed.
Thirdly, do all that you can. If you can fight, do so. If you can write, do it. Hone your talents, and then use them. Weapons come in many forms, and we need them all; not only the ones that draw blood.
Hensworth: How do you define a hero?
McIllian: Someone who chooses what is right over what is easy. Someone who stands up for their truth and for the lives of others. Even when their knees shake.
Someone with the resolve to stand up at the gates of Hell, and refuse to back down.
Hensworth: What most frustrates you about other people?
McIllian: Oh Lord, that’s a list. In the abstract, it’s willful blindness. Chosen apathy. Some people hang onto ignorance because it seems familiar. I loathe and despise that trait. In the same category is privilege without reflection. I’ll be direct here: I earned my rank through hard work, and I’m justly proud of that. But I did not earn the genetic endowments that allowed me to put in the work that gave me my position in the Force. I was given those. It is my duty to remember that I have been given gifts, and to give gifts in return to those around me in order to let them rise. You did not earn the place you were born into, high or low. You were given it through a web of intergenerational decisions and circumstances. None of us should forget that. Watching people deny it and be either unaware or wilfully dismissive towards the past, or towards another human being? That irritates me to no end.
Now in the concrete, what frustrates me? Shaving cream in my shoes. Parody-porn vid executable files placed on my tab and coded to go off during dinner. Notes in my personnel file that read ‘special interests: the worst vids ever made in human history’. Oh, and imbecilic things asked for on the requisitions requests. The next person who asks me to requisition a unicorn is going to catch hell.
McIllian: Excuse me. The Wildcards are very clever, very inventive, and easily bored. Pranks are the norm around here. It’s amusing on a good day, and bloody infuriating on a bad day.
Hensworth: I see, sir. Um… what is the greatest act of kindest you have ever received?
McIllian:Oh...er...Lord, I guess it would be...well. It would be the home I’ve been offered here. My team has steadfastly and repeatedly stood for me, in the face of things...things about me that should have rendered me a pariah. I’ve expected to be cast aside three times in my life, and each time I was embraced instead: as friend, as brother and as beloved. That acceptance has been everything to me.
We’re all different. We’ve all walked different roads to come here. But we are a family.
The dark shapes of three drones flitted over the junkyard, blotting out the stars. Aidan desperately turned the keys, slamming his foot on the accelerator. The truck’s engine finally revved. Kevin flung open the passenger side door and leapt inside. “Go, go, go!”
Aidan slammed it into reverse and hit the gas. They jumped backward. Once the truck was far enough away from the fence, he changed gears and wrenched the wheel around. They bumped and rattled into the night as fast as Aidan dared without the headlights on. The heat of the engine would make them easy to follow for the drones’ thermal cameras, but the short-range guard drones couldn’t go too far from their base of operation before their programming called them back. Aidan just hoped they could outrun them.
He gripped the steering wheel so hard it hurt. He could feel the suit tightening down against his skin. His heart pounded in his chest. Kevin’s breathing was ragged beside him. Another burst of bullets sprayed the ground right in front of them. Aidan yelped and yanked the wheel to avoid getting hit. The truck jittered to the side. Aidan slammed on the gas. The desert night sped past in a blur of blue and red under the starlight. Slowly, the whir of rotors faded into the distance. Aidan’s grip on the steering wheel began to relax. Kevin pulled his tab out of the bag and set it on the dashboard, watching as the screen flipped through the security channels they’d hacked into, keeping track of the location of dozens of drones.
Finally, Aidan pulled up under an overhang of red rock and cut the engine. The wide-range security drones were due to make their fly-over soon. Better to stop for a while and recover, get back on the road when it was safer.
They sat in silence for a long time, listening for rotors over the quiet buzz of the night insects. Aidan rested his arms on the steering wheel and propped his chin on his wrist, watching the star-studded sky.
“You all right?” Kevin breathed. At some point during the drive, he had deactivated his slick suit.
Aidan sighed and leaned back so he could manually flip his face screen up.”Yeah. Think so. Banged my knee pretty bad. Your shoulder?”
“Bruised. Doesn’t feel severe.” Kevin shrugged.
“Um, good,” Aidan whispered eventually.
So. They were alive. They’d gotten out with most of what they’d gone in for.
At the expense of a bad bruise across Kevin’s cheek, that or worse to his shoulder, and an action that could have caused so much more.
Slowly, some of his anger seeped back. He took a breath. “You scared the hell out of me back there and acted like a complete gamma, Kev. Don’t do that again.”
Kevin ducked his head in a slow nod. “I’m sorry, Aidan. I— When I saw you like that, I guess I panicked.”
Aidan sighed. Kevin was normally so level-headed. He’d been utterly cool on-Grid, when Aidan had been scared shitless.
So why had he acted like this out here?
On the tab screen, the red dot of a drone approached their location. They waited in breathless silence as the long-range drone passed, not even the sound of whirring to announce its presence. The red dot moved out of range.
Aidan breathed out. Kevin looked up with a smile. So close. They were so close.
“That’s the last of them. A very fine night’s work if I do say so.”
Aidan tried to smile, but it faltered. “I didn’t get the holo board. That was the part we needed most.”
Kevin smirked as he pulled the bag up from the floorboard and into his lap. He rifled quickly through the materials they had managed to grab, yanked, and pulled out the board with a wink.
“Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“What? How…?” Aidan breathed, feeling the wave of defeat that had been threatening lift.
“Fell down the pile when you did,” Kevin whispered, grinning. “I simply grabbed it up. After all, I am the requisitions officer. Snatching things is my forte.”
A rush of joy shot through Aidan. They’d done it. They’d gotten everything. Nose to nose with Kevin, he grinned.
“Holy shit, we- Holy shit! You… wow. Kevin, holy shit! This is like one of your vids!”
Kevin’s eyes glittered like silver in the low light. “You know, if this is a vid, I know how the scene ends.”
“Yeah?” Aidan asked, still giddy with relief.
Kevin was still smiling, his teeth white outlines in his grin. And he was leaning closer. Aidan could feel the heat of his skin, his breath.
“Heroes always get a kiss at the end of the adventure. That’s the convention.” Kevin tipped his head, eyes holding Aidan’s. “Would the hero like a kiss?”
Aidan froze. Was Kevin actually… Was he…?
He wet his lips. His voice escaped as a whisper. “Am I supposed to be a hero?”
Kevin’s smile was soft now, and he was so very close. “I don’t see anyone else in the driver’s seat. So you must be.” Then he pressed his lips against Aidan’s.
Kevin’s lips were hot. Aidan’s brain turned inside out. Kevin was kissing him.
Kevin had started kissing him.
This was real.
He leaned into the warmth with a pleasure that was almost pain. This was only going to be a second, but if only this second would last.
Softly, Kevin drew back. “Was that okay?”
Kevin’s whisper barely made it through the buzzing in Aidan’s brain. He gasped in a breath. “Um, okay. Yeah.” He swallowed hard and forced himself to sit up. "We-we should get going home…”
Kevin nodded, eyes still holding his as he drew away. “I suppose we should.”
About the author:
O.E. Tearmann lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, in what may become the Co-Wy Grid. They share the house with a brat in fur, a husband and a great many books. Their search engine history may garner them a call from the FBI one day. When they're not living on base 1407 they advocate for a more equitable society and more sustainable agricultural practices, participate in sundry geekdom and do their best to walk their characters' talk.
O.E. is giving away an eBook copy of “After Hours Game: A Wildcards Christmas: with this tour. For a chance to win, enter via Rafflecopter: